Mon, February 20, 2012
China > HK/Taiwan

‘Dogs’ vs. ‘locusts’

2012-02-20 14:12:34 GMT2012-02-20 22:12:34(Beijing Time)  Global Times

A man holds up a placard denouncing a plan to allow mainlander drivers into Hong Kong at a demonstration in a park in Hong Kong on February 12. (Photo/AFP)

Perhaps the recent push and pull between Hong Kong residents and people from the Chinese mainland is epitomized by an incident on the regional authority's subway.

A woman was feeding her young daughter noodles and some spilled on the floor. An elderly man, speaking Putonghua with a thick Cantonese accent, chastised the woman who was obviously from the mainland. He pointed to a sign that prohibits eating on Hong Kong's noticeably clean subways.

The ensuring argument was captured on a video phone and went viral in Hong Kong after it was posted on YouTube, which is not available in the mainland.

Hong Kongers thought the incident showed the true nature of mainlanders which many consider to be uncouth and uncultured. Mainlanders lashed back suggesting the older man had no right to criticize a fellow citizen and made fun of his lack of skill speaking the country's official language.

The incident brought into focus some Hong Kongers' apparent growing angst with the rising influence that people from the mainland are having on their daily life.

Since December debate between the two sides has sunk into name calling, insults and minor protests in Hong Kong.

Kong Qingdong, a commentator in Beijing, known for his leftist vitriol, called some of the Hong Kongers dogs. People in Hong Kong responded with a newspaper ad comparing mainlanders to locusts.

Honeymoon has ended

There's little doubt that in the 15 years since Hong Kong returned to the mainland, communication and cooperation between the mainland and the Special Administrative Region have been strengthened. The honeymoon, however, is definitely over and a much sterner relationship seems to be taking hold.

Hong Kongers' natural sense of superiority, which was often on display when it was a British concession, has been both boosted and shaken by several recent phenomena.

Tensions erupted in early January when the Italian luxury clothing store Dolce and Gabbana apparently allowed people from the mainland to take photographs of the store, but told Hong Kongers they couldn't.

The obvious unequal treatment caused an outrage and 1,000 people demonstrated in front of the store. Protesters eventually forced the store to close for a short period and management quickly apologized.

The incident seems to have galvanized growing antipathy toward the newly wealthy from the mainland who are now being shown deference and in turn have become arrogant of their ability to spend loads of cash.

"Many people think the protest reflected the cultural differences between Hong Kong and mainland, but it is the vanishing superiority (of Hong Kong people) that caused the war of words and the sentiment is being used by some politicians," Wang Zixi, a media observer, told the Global Times.

Wang suggests that Hong Kongers have to get over the fact that some people from the mainland are now their economic equals. "They should realize the mainland's rise is not a threat; it's an opportunity."

A bad taste ad

A week after the D&G protest some Hong Kongers were apparently still seething. Internet users there raised HK$12,000 for an advertisement in Hong Kong's Apple newspaper that many felt was in bad taste. The full-page color ad depicted a giant locust overlooking Victoria Harbor.

The text complains about the tens of thousands of pregnant women from the mainland who travel to Hong Kong to give birth hoping their child will have rights of residency there. Something mainland cities don't give to newborns of non-resident mothers.

"Do you want Hong Kong to pay HK$ 1 million ($128,000) every 18 minutes to raise a child from the mainland? Hong Kong people have had enough!" blared the advertisement.

The subway fight and the controversial ad caused an outrageous outburst from Peking University Professor Kong Qingdong. "Those types of people are used to being the dogs of British imperialists - they are dogs, not humans," said Kong who claims to be a direct descendant of Confucius.

To some in Hong Kong, Kong's remarks were proof of the uncouth mainland mentality and they recruited their dogs to help vent their anger. This time several hundred protesters brought their dogs and marched around Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the HKSAR. Kong's half-hearted retraction the next day didn't help. "Sure there are many nice people in Hong Kong, but many are still dogs," he wrote.

"Mainlanders have crossed our bottom line," Yung Jhon, who organized the newspaper ad, said in an interview with the South China Morning Post. "Why are mainland mothers flooding in to take up resources in our public hospitals, getting our benefits and social welfare? Why do mainlanders ... refuse to follow our rules and order? We can't accept that," said Yung.

Earlier this month people in Hong Kong found yet another reason to stage a small protest when the government announced it might allows private cars from the mainland to enter the region.

The government later said it was only mulling the idea. Meanwhile, private cars, with their distinctive left-side drive and HK license plates are often seen in neighboring cities on the mainland.

While the storm in the teapot continues to brew, Hong Kong's tourism industry is booming, with most visitors coming from the mainland.

Of the 42 million tourists and visitors, who pumped HK$250 billion dollars into the local economy in 2011, 28.1 million of the arrivals came from the mainland, up 23.9 percent from the previous year.

Despite the growing economic benefits people from the mainland bring, fewer native Hong Kongers are feeling an affinity with their country at large.

Hong Kongers first

An annual poll last December by two Hong Kong University professors found that 63 percent of the respondents identified themselves either as "Hong Kong citizens" or "Chinese Hong Kong citizens." Only 34 percent identified themselves as "Chinese citizens" or "Hong Kong Chinese citizens". The statistics show a 12-year low in people's attachment to the mainland.

Yet Hong Kong remains an open and welcoming place for many mainlanders. Its universities have become the hot new place to study in after high school, and the city offers coveted scholarships to the mainland's top high school grads.

Tang Bo, a mainland student studying at Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, told the Global Times that he thinks Hong Kongers are not being rational when they equate mainlanders to locusts.

"They can't see the long term benefit that mainland tourists bring to Hong Kong," he said.

Tang says while most Hong Kongers are nice to him he's not planning to stay after graduation, even though he would likely qualify. "I know some Hong Kongers don't feel good about competing against mainland students, but I'm not taking up education resources, I pay for my own tuition, but I'll have better career opportunities on the mainland after graduation."

The newly founded Youth Against Racism (YAR) group is trying to unite the dogs and locusts with some straight talk about the harm discrimination and prejudice can cause.

"The only difference between people from the mainland is that they speak Putonghua," Yu Wai-pan, a Hong Kong native and Lingnan University student who helped initiate YAR, told the Global Times. "Accusing mainlanders of taking up resources is nonsense."

Yu says YAR's 100 members which include mainlanders, Hong Kongers and foreign students are dedicated to "exposing lies that steer people's attention away from the real issue," which he says is the ineptitude of the Hong Kong government.

Earlier this month about 20 members of YAR staged their own protest against the locust advertisement on Lingnan campus. Some students wore dog masks while others dressed as locusts. "Dogs and locusts unite and fight against prejudice," they chanted. They burned the newspaper outside the university.

Dogs and locusts unite

Sally Tang, a member of YAR, told the Global Times that the Hong Kong government and its support parties have masterminded the anti-mainland sentiment.

"We should not be fighting against mainlanders, the real issue is government policy that favors super wealthy people," she said.

Zhou Baosong, a professor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, agrees that the regional government shares part of the blame.

He says the government allows mainland mothers to give birth in Hong Kong because they bring in a lot of money.

The Hong Kong government has imposed quotas on the number of mainland mothers allowed to give birth in local hospitals.

Guangdong Province and other mainland jurisdiction say they will start fining mothers who give birth in Hong Kong in an attempt to circumvent the country's family planning policy that limits many couples to one child, reported People's Daily online.

"Over the years anti-government sentiment has been on the rise, but the government has failed to calm the situation and solve the problems. Now the people's anger is directed at new immigrants and mainlanders," Zhou said.

Zhou worries the misunderstanding between Hong Kongers and mainlanders will continue to grow but is not ever likely to get out of hand.

"The protests and the war of words have hurt feelings from both sides. It is crucial now to help each side have a better understanding of the other," he said.

Internet users in the neighboring city of Shenzhen are using irony to calm hurt feelings and promote better understanding. They've produced their own ad that instead of locusts shows former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping -- who oversaw Hong Kong's return to China -- standing atop a mountain.

The ad reads: "You are one of us if you come to Shenzhen. Welcome to Shenzhen!"



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